Taking part in the Olympic Games must surely rank as one of the greatest moments of any athlete’s career. For a chosen few comes the added honour of being asked to carry the flag for their national delegation in the Parade of Athletes at the Opening Ceremony.
The flagbearer for a national delegation is, in some ways, akin to team captain, but it is also much more than that. By carrying their national flag during the Parade of Nations, the flagbearer becomes an enduring symbol of their national values and indeed of Olympic ideals, not to mention an inspiration for future generations.
Each delegation decides its own means of designating the flag-bearer’s role. France, for example, announced its choice of Jason Lamy-Chappuis 100 days before the Games in October 2013, while Russia and USA only revealed the identity of their flagbearers 48 hours before the Opening Ceremony. Some are appointed by their NOC, and some are chosen by their team-mates.
Whatever the selection process, it is one that requires great care. New Zealand Chef de Mission Pete Wardell gives an insight into the thought processes that went into choosing their flagbearer Shane Dobbin.
“Shane demonstrates the values we expect of an Olympian," he explains. "He is respected within the team. With proven results he is a world class athlete, a wonderful role model and an inspiration. Our flag bearers become part of our sporting history and we're delighted Shane will become one of a series of exceptional Olympic athletes who have led and inspired our teams."
Among those who will be leading their delegations into the Fisht Stadium on Friday evening are some of the greatest champions of their generation – as a glance at the list below demonstrates. But however successful and experienced they might, the honour of being flagbearer invariably represents, in the words of five-times Olympian Armin Zöggeler, “a new career milestone”.
At Sochi there will be a record 87 flag-bearers. Here is what Zöggeler and some of his fellow flagbearers at Sochi had to say about being chosen for the role.
Aksel Lund Svindal (Norway) Alpine skiing
"Proud and excited to carry the Norwegian flag at the opening ceremony here in Sochi. Thanks!!,"
Alexander Zubkov (Russia), bobsleigh
“I'm very satisfied and overjoyed that I've been entrusted with such an honorable mission. It's great to realise that the country is behind me. And I'll do everything possible to help our team put in a worthy performance at the Games.”
Jason Lamy-Chappuis (France), Nordic Combined
“Carrying the flag will be a magical experience. I’m going to take in every momnt. It will be an unforgettable experience. This is a great source of pride and a great responsibility, and a real pleasure. I’ll be trying to do my very best.”
Todd Lodwick (USA), biathlon
"Being nominated to carry the flag at the Opening Ceremony is one of the greatest honours that has ever been bestowed upon me. I couldn't be more humbled and excited to be selected among all of the great athletes who were vying for this representation. Going into my sixth Olympic Games, it feels like I have already won a medal, and to cap off my career by representing the United States of America and Team USA is truly a privilege."
Armin Zöggeler (Italy) luge
“This is an honour, a source of pride and of huge motivation. I will try to do my best. This is a new milestone in my career.”
Alex Pullin (Australia) snowboard
“It's such a special experience to walk out as an athlete in that opening ceremony. It's just very emotional, it's uplifting. You just want to throw your hands in the air and celebrate with your friends and also you feel that there's something ahead of you and it's just a moment around the corner.”
Shane Dobbin (New Zealand) speed skating
"This is a great honour. To wear the beautiful team cloak and to walk into the Opening Ceremony together with the team is something I could never have imagined. I am determined to make the team, and our country, proud. Seeing the New Zealand Olympic Team compete as a child was an inspiration to me and I hope I can inspire a new generation, too."
John Eley (Great Britain), short-track
“An unbelievable honour. This is a proud moment for my family, who have supported me through-out my career. It was something really nice to share with them.”